In vaccination debate, children of more responsible parents at risk

In vaccination debate, children of more responsible parents at risk
A student receives a whooping cough vaccination; the state is experiencing a whooping cough epidemic, with more than 7,500 cases this year. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Did I pause, ever so briefly, when it was time for my daughter to be vaccinated as required under California law?

Yes. A parent worries.


You worry about a negative reaction, or even about claims by some that high rates of autism might be related to vaccinations.

But I had greater worries that if my child didn’t get vaccinated, she’d be susceptible to measles, whooping cough, polio, rubella, mumps, hepatitis B, diphtheria and chicken pox.

Was there any credible scientific evidence that vaccinations could cause autism?

None whatsoever.

Was there any credible scientific evidence that vaccinations have helped thousands of children avoid dangerous illness and even death?


But despite the science, we're on the verge of a potential public health crisis because so many parents are opting out of vaccinating their children. As a story by my colleagues Paloma Esquivel and Sandra Poindexter revealed, the percentage of kindergartens in which at least 8% of students are not vaccinated has recently doubled.

That number is crucial, because medical experts say 92% percent of all kids have to be immunized to control the spread of measles, which, by the way, has re-emerged in California.

Let me put it another way:

Because some parents have bought into pseudo-science or their own crackpot notions about health, the children of more responsible parents are at risk.

This, frankly, is not surprising. If there's a dangerous national epidemic, it's a me-first, I-know-best mentality. People are happily immersed in their own worlds, too self-satisfied, conspiratorial and inconsiderate to consider the greater good.

In The Times story, an Orange County mother of three unvaccinated kids says she wants them to be healthy "from the inside out," with vitamins and minerals, an active lifestyle, visits to the chiropractor and no genetically modified foods.

How clever and crunchy cool of her, and who could be against healthy living? The problem is that vitamins and chiropractors don't prevent measles or whooping cough.

The Times story reports that higher percentages of parents in affluent communities have sought immunization exemptions on the basis of personal belief.

In Santa Monica-Malibu Unified, the exemption rate was 14.8%. Is anyone surprised?

This is a part of town where you probably couldn't walk three blocks and not find someone who believes pilates cures polio.

There and elsewhere, we're dealing with the scourge of the entitled cognoscenti who confuse rumor with research, live in narrow echo chambers, and have convinced themselves their children are special and no one else's children matter. Then you've got those who believe immunization requirements are an example of big government run amok, or of Big Pharma dictating public policy.

Yeah, government does run amok and Big Pharma does own Congress, but science is science. And the incidence of measles has reached a 20-year high in the U.S., with California second in the nation with 61 cases, 22 of them in Orange County.

"We have schools in California where the percent of children who exercise the personal belief exemption is well above 50%," the deputy director of the state's Public Health Center for Infectious Diseases told the Times.

The selfishness of these parents is unconscionable. Simply put, disease spreads more easily when fewer people are immunized, and we're talking about preventable diseases.

The state ought to make the standard for immunization exemptions more strict, and there ought to be a healthy fee for such exemptions, with money being plowed into greater education on the topic. The medical community, meanwhile, should launch a statewide campaign in which doctors detail the specific risks of opting out on vaccinations.

Assemblyman Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) has introduced a bill requiring parental counseling on immunizations, and he had this to say:

"Hopefully we do not need to have children hospitalized and die before people will recognize how important it is to get their child immunized—and how important it is not just for their own child, but for the community at large."


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